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Apple and Fortnite developer Epic Games court battle to resume in May 2021

Epic's battle against Apple's App Store rules will be decided by a judge, not a jury, likely sometime next summer.

Fortnite logo on a phone screen

It'll be a while before Fortnite is back in the iPhone's good graces.

Angela Lang/CNET

In Fortnite: Battle Royale, the free online title from Epic Games, 100 players take control of characters wielding everything from axes to sharpshooter guns to rainbow-colored unicorn stick horses. Their objective is to battle to the last person standing, kinda like the Hunger Games, but much more silly and cartoonish. 

Fortnite's become an international phenomenon, attracting more than 350 million players and billions of dollars in sales since its release three years ago. Now its next challenge will be in the courts.

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Epic's trial against iPhone maker Apple in a federal court will begin on May 3, 2021, according to a schedule set by US DIstrict Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on Wednesday. The two companies agreed to have their case decided by Rogers, who so far hasn't indicated her leaning in the case as she's ruled against and for both companies in various pretrial motions. 

Apple and Epic didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Epic sued Apple on Aug. 13, alleging that the iPhone company's rules demanding up to a 30% cut of app sales made on the iPhone and iPad are anticompetitive. The suit effectively forces Apple to defend the way it operates its App Store, the only gateway for developers who want to have their apps made available for download on the iPhone

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Epic set up the showdown by intentionally breaking Apple's rules, which say app developers must use Apple's payment processing service for digital goods, such as new clothing for a game character. On that day in August, Epic turned on hidden code in Fortnite that allowed users to buy items directly from Epic at a discount, rather than pay full price through Apple's payments service. 

Apple swiftly banned Fortnite from its app store, stopping all future downloads but allowing anyone who'd already downloaded the game to continue playing. Epic responded, setting the stage for a showdown that could upend the way people download and pay for apps and games.

Epic argues that companies other than Apple should be able to run their own app stores for the iPhone and charge customers through any processing service they deem fit. Apple argues that its rules keep users safe and have helped turn its app store into one of the largest digital storefronts in the world.

Though the lawsuit boils down to two mega-corporations slap-fighting over who gets how much money from app sales, these trials also tend to offer insight into how the companies act behind the scenes. During Apple's years-long court battle with Samsung, the two companies revealed prototype designs for their devices and backstories about how their products are made. There's also usually at least one celebrity court appearance by an executive, as in the Uber-Waymo trial in 2018, when former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was called to the stand to explain Uber's unusually aggressive company culture and the part he played in shaping it.

Here's Epic and Apple's schedule so far:

Epic vs Apple trial calendar

Epic v Apple trial calendar, as of Oct. 7 2020.

US District Court, Northern District of California